Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bark: A funny thing happened on the way to the barber

I was queuing up at the cash point to take some money out for a much-needed haircut earlier this afternoon, when I noticed that the gentlemen at the ATM was taking an inordinate amount of time, fiddling at the buttons on the screen. I bite down my instinct to make a sarcastic comment like "Anytime today would be fine, mate", which I often do in my car when waiting for someone to make a decision to whether they should pull out into a junction or at a roundabout when they have clear right of way.

Just as well, really, because when he turns around IT'S BRIAN BLOODY BLESSED.

It's not every day that you get to use the same cash point as a national treasure. Though apparently, as my barber tells me, he lives just down the road and he's always in our local supermarket. Ten years I've been living here, and that's the first time I've seen him.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Byte: Doggie Style

I had an absolutely mucking fiserable day at work on Tuesday (Year 9, need I say more?), so coming home to find that Blizzard had sent me a copy of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm really made my month.

I've had a few hours over the past couple of days to play with it now, and in keeping with my chronic case of alt-o-holism, I rolled a new toon - a Worgen Druid - to check out the new Alliance race and starting area. No surprise - it's rather bloody good. The Worgen vibe is cockney Victoriana, with one of the early quest rewards being a rather natty top hat. You're into the action immediately, with your home city of Gilneas being invaded by vicious, feral Worgen, and it doesn't really stop until you take the boat to Darnassus around level 13, where you pick up the new, improved Darkshore quests.

The real highlights of the Worgen starting area are the missions where you get to fight off the Forsaken invasion of Gilneas, whether it's by foot, by air, or my vehicle. The two missions where you get to take out the orcs reinforcing the Forsaken invasion with a Night Elf Glaive Launcher and by assaulting an airborne gunship are the real standouts towards the end of the starting area, but there are plenty of other nice moments to help liven up your first few hours. Most surprising is the introduction of in game cutscenes to mark particularly significant story developments (the first being your transformation from a human into a Worgen) - there's a real push to make your more involved with the story, rather than just have you dash off to kill the next set of mobs.

I really like my Worgen, incidentally. Blizzard have nailed the character mannerisms of these curious dog-people - and naturally, there are all-new dances and flirts that are sure to raise a smile. I especially like their lurching, ungainly stride as they run and I'm looking forward to reaching level 20, where they learn the 'run on all fours' ability, which has them running as fast as a standard mount, without actually needing one. Their other racial bonuses (fast skinning, increased crit rating and Darkflight - a brief speed boost ability) make Worgen perfect for Feral Druids or Rogues - and their feral forms for Druids are pretty funky. I can see me levelling up my new Worgen up to level 60 to take in the revised Azeroth content, because what I've seen of the revised zones so far looks really good. Thousand Needles is much more interesting now that it's been flooded and many other zones have really been improved. Darkshore has been ripped to shreds and Desolace actually has sprouted a few points of interest, post-Catacylsm.

I haven't had time yo take in all the changes to Azeroth yet, but I hear good things about the new versions of Stonetalon Mountains and the revised zone around Astranaar - I look forward to checking them out with my Worgen to see if the hype is justified.

The downside of having new races to play with is that it tempts you into neglecting your level 80s. I haven't really got stuck into the high end content yet, but I'm pleased to report that at least they're not charging thousands of gold to get your master pilots license to fly in Azeroth. Top whack (without rep bonuses) is a mere 250 gold, which is affordable at day one even for mainly casual players like me. Flying mounts in Azeroth is a bit of a game changer, but it has been balanced out by Blizzard nuking all the capital city portals in Shattrath and Dalaran (no doubt due to the effect of the cataclysm) - so you do really need fast access to flying mounts in Azeroth. On Tuesday night I did feel obliged to pay a visit to Mount Hyjal, since it's so prominent in the lore. First impressions: FECK ME, IT'S HUGE.

After the scale of the areas in Wrath of the Lich King, the design doesn't quite feel so amazing, but it's hard to not be impressed by the variety and grandeur of the design. And for a non-raiding, guildless casual like me, the quest rewards are ridiculously better than the blues I have right now. It shouldn't take too long to get my main up to the new level cap, and it's refreshing to see that they haven't added in filler content to enable people to gain an extra ten levels instead of five, just for the sake of getting extra levels.

I doubt that there's anything in Cataclysm that would persuade WoW-haters to change their mind about the game, but I don't suppose that's the point. Cataclysm ought to make Blizzard another couple of warehousefuls of cash - since it does make efforts to improve an already great game. I can't wait to see all the new zones, particularly the high-end content and the Goblin starting zone - this expansion pack is going to keep me busy for a long time. You can expect to see more missives from me inbound from Azeroth over the coming months.